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GORDON BROWN
Last updated 07:46 30/11/2012

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OPINION: Oh come on, it wasn't quite a million dollars, so what was all the fuss about?

Well, to be honest there wasn't much of a fuss at all. An unbudgeted item with an extra cost of a mere $869,000 wasn't enough to spark much debate at Tuesday night's monitoring committee meeting.

Mind you, there wasn't much of a monitoring committee present to make a fuss. Of the seven members of one of the New Plymouth District Council's most powerful standing committees, only four were able to make it for a 4.30pm start.

One fewer and there wouldn't have been a quorum, which would have been embarrassing in itself.

For the record, those members present were chairman Craig McFarlane, deputy chairwoman Marie Pearce, deputy mayor Alex Matheson and Howie Tamati.

Apologies were received from Phil Quinney, Pauline Lockett and Mayor Harry Duynhoven, although Cr Quinney did turn up at 5.15pm, apologising for his lateness. To his surprise, the committee was already on item A22 by then, meaning there were only three items of business left.

For readers' information, councillors are split into two standing committees, and all are on either policy or monitoring - except for Cr John (Horse) McLeod, whom, you may recall, resigned from the monitoring committee after a bust-up with his colleagues over the code of conduct.

Councillors are encouraged to attend both committee meetings, however, and get a copy of the agenda and relevant papers.

They cannot vote at both but do have speaking rights, so can make a meaningful contribution.

It has to be said that this is not the most energetic council when it comes to attendance, so it is worth recording for posterity that four non-voting councillors also attended: Lance Girling-Butcher, Lynn Bublitz, Shaun Biesiek and Sherril George.

That meant a total of eight of your elected representatives were present when item A12 was to be debated. And that's when the fun should have started. This item was the Pukekura Park Water Quality Improvement Project.

The problem is the murky water in the park. This means the sediment and weeds in the lake have to be removed, among other things, to improve the water quality. That had been identified and budgeted for back in 2004 and when this year's LTP was approved, there was a not-insignificant amount of $1.21 million approved to do just that over the next few years.

Now, a whole five months later, that figure is hopelessly wrong, councillors were told, although not in exactly those words. The revised budget has the amount of dosh needed to do the work at $2.079m over the next four years.

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Coming at a time when Mayor Harry and some of the best brains at the council are working on ways to trim the budget and save ratepayers a bob or two in the future, it wasn't a good look. It would be a bit like getting Andrew Hore to front a campaign to crack down on violence on the sports field.

To be fair to councillors, there was a bit of an attempt to put parks manager Mark Bruhn under the blowtorch about the cost blow-out. But it was a nondescript inquiry or two that was about as effective as David Cunliffe writing a book on how to unseat your leader. They needn't have bothered.

Mr Bruhn is an articulate fellow clearly earmarked for higher office, and he is adept at neatly sidestepping inquiries, gentle or otherwise.

"The figures were not finalised in time for the LTP," he explained.

"I could have taken a stab in the dark but had no basis to do so."

Cr Shorn (Biesiek) had made a gentle inquiry or two, but declared himself satisfied.

"Some would say one million dollars extra is high, but I do see it as a need."

Cr Sherril 'Sledgehammer' George was the most put out and pointed out that "an extra million dollars was being put into a park" and she thought it should be put into roading "where we do have issues".

Chairman Craig added his two bob's worth at that juncture: "Thank you Councillor George, I can assure you it is not easy to find an extra million dollars." So there.

All this prompted Sir Lancelot to leap to the defence of New Plymouth's "Jewel in the Crown", as Pukekura Park is so often called.

"The parks are just as important as roads and this park plays a big part in keeping people's sanity," he declared, with some feeling.

Mr Bruhn explained that funding would come from depreciation reserves, which means it won't cost ratepayers anything extra, this year anyway. Suffice to say the debate was over in three or four minutes and the new budget, with the extra $869,000, passed without a dissenting vote.

Now and again the odd person suggests Cr Horse appears too frequently in this column, but I couldn't help but think that the meeting, which went through 25 items, a public comment and two deputations in 49 minutes, may have been a bit longer and turned out a bit differently had he been there.

- Taranaki Daily News

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